‘NCIS: Los Angeles’: Chris O’Donnell’s Breakdown of How Hetty Groomed Callen for His Role

by Suzanne Halliburton

The season 12 finale of NCIS: Los Angeles made a passing reference to Callen and his relationship with Hetty.

We see Callen (Chris O’Donnell) sifting through some files in Hetty’s office. But Hetty (Linda Hunt) isn’t there. She’s been in a war zone all season. And we now know how big if a part Hetty played in Callen’s life when he was growing up in the foster system.

O’Donnell talked in May about season 12 of NCIS: Los Angeles. The Covid-19 pandemic impacted the season, limiting it in episodes and precluding Hunt from doing any studio work. She did scenes from her driveway, although she was able to film parts of the finale with cast and crew.

CBS talked to O’Donnell, asking him to flesh out what he learned about his Russian roots and just how much Hetty was involved. What was the impact of hearing how much Hetty groomed him?

“Well, it’s questioning his history,” said the NCIS: Los Angeles star. “He spent so many years trying to figure out who his parents were and why he was put up for adoption. He found his father and he answered a lot of questions and it’s been moving on.

“Suddenly he’s been asked more than once. Comments have been made about the fact that Hetty has been grooming him for what he’s doing now his whole life. And, he’s thinking, she helped me, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.

“Some of the stuff is making more sense than it should, which is really raising more and more questions for Callen,” O’Donnell said. “He’s starting to realize that there’s something bigger in play here that he wasn’t aware of.”

NCIS: Los Angeles Has Filled In Some of the Hetty/Callen Blanks

Here’s what we know about Callen, the long-time character on NCIS: Los Angeles. On the show, he’s partners with Sam Hannah (LL Cool J). But we also know his pre-show back story. Callen was born in Romania as Grisha Alexandrovich Nikolaev. His father was a KGB agent, his mother was Clara Callen, a Romanian/CIA operative. The Callens were involved in a decades-long feud with the Comescus, a Romanian crime family. Callen’s grandfather hunted down the Comescus for crimes in World War II.

And here’s how Hetty became involved. She was Callen’s mother’s handler with the CIA. Clara took her children and fled to the United States. As they awaited Hetty to pick them up, the Comescu assassins killed Clara.

Young Callen was so traumatized that he suppressed the memories. He spent time in more than 30 foster homes. And he got into serious trouble as a teenager. That’s when Hetty came back into his life. She rescued him from juvenile detention and put him on a clearer path. He enlisted in the military and eventually became an agent with NCIS: Los Angeles.

But he keeps hearing questions about how Hetty “groomed him.”

Russia always is a topic on the show. And in a season 12 episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, the U.S. government flips the script on Callen, telling him they believe he could be a Russian agent.

No doubt, there will be more of this in season 13, which premieres Oct. 10. Stay tuned.